Oman - Souqs

Oman - Souqs Last updated on Wednesday 14th April 2010

In the Sultanate of Oman, every town or village has its souq. These traditional souq's, or markets, have for many centuries provided the shopper with a veritable treasure trove of fascinating items, and business flourishes in an atmosphere which is a far cry from modern commercial centres or luxury stores.

Most Omani souq's are situated within the ancient defences of city walls or forts. Here, traders meet not only to buy and sell their wares, but also to exchange news and views. A trip to the souq is always a feast for the senses, with pungent spice aromas filling the air, brilliantly colourful displays of fabric draped across the narrow alleyways, and animated conversations competing with the cries of vendors.

Oman's capital, Muscat, has a wonderfully cosmopolitan main souq, situated in the suburb of Muttrah. Most basic goods can be purchased here, but a must for tourists is probably a colourful example of Oman's national dress. Men wear a simple, long-sleeved, ankle-length robe, known as a dishdasha, with a long piece of material wound, turban-style, around the head. Many of these head-dresses have hand-embroidered borders and come in a wide range of colours and textures. Women wear brightly-coloured, long-sleeved robes over baggy trousers, fitting tightly at the ankle. Hems and cuffs of the women's garments are often beautifully embroidered, and heavy gold or silver jewelry is worn, too.

In Oman's interior region, at the ancient oasis of Nizwa, there is a particularly interesting souq, specializing in finely-crafted metalwork. Nizwa is famous for thick silver anklets (mostly too tight for the modern ankle) and curved Omani tribal daggers, known as khanjars. Many of these have beautiful filigree sheaths, but souvenir-hunters should beware, as it is forbidden to export the very old specimens. The price may also be prohibitive.

In the attractive small town of ::I, a 12 kilometre-long defence wall was built to enclose the town and repel invaders. The souq here is famous for its pottery and its interesting, ancient atmosphere.

The souq in the market town of Rustaq, in the western ::I region, has been little influenced by the outside world. Beautiful wooden storage chests are to be found there, many of which have decorative metalwork, crafted by sailors during their long voyages. The antique stalls also contain many examples of old weaponry, with bargains galore for enthusiasts.

In Oman's southern Dhofar region is the town of Salalah, famous for its seafood souq. The region also produces top quality frankincense, which brought immense wealth to the area around 200BC. Brightly-painted clay incense burners as well as frankincense itself can be purchased in the souq's here.

Twenty years ago, Oman was still very much part of a bygone age. The gates of Muscat were closed at dusk and did not re-open until dawn, forbidding passage during the hours of darkness. In more recent years, progressive thinking and increased wealth from oil revenues have brought Oman into the modern world. The souq's, however, remain as a tangible reminder of Oman's fascinating history.

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